For the first time in seven seasons, the UT Arlington women are a winning basketball team.
After Thursday’s 66-41 victory over Georgia Southern and heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale at Appalachian State, that fact has the Mavericks in a good place mentally as they prepare for the Sun Belt Conference tournament. Tipoff at the Jones Center in Boone, N.C., is slated for 1 p.m.
“They’re really upbeat and have a lot of confidence,” coach Krista Gerlich said. “It’s taken a lot of determination and focus from this young team to get us to this point”
Thursday’s win punched the Mavs’ (16-12, 10-9 Sun Belt) ticket to the conference tournament, and another win Saturday could move the team back into fifth in the Sun Belt standings, just a year after finishing last in the 10-team league.
A win at Appalachian State (14-14, 9-10) would also be the Mavericks’ eighth in 11 games. That momentum could be a springboard to a successful Sun Belt tourney run.
“This is obviously the time of year that you want to be playing your best,” Gerlich said. “You want all the confidence you can have, and improving our seed and staying above .500 in the conference is something our kids want to be a part of.”
Following the Mavs’ 55-45 win over the Mountaineers on Feb. 19, though, Appalachian State has won three of its last four, behind 17.3 points per game from the Sun Belt’s third-leading scorer, Maryah Sydnor. The forward had 18 points in the loss to UTA at College Park Center.
“They’re playing really well right now and have won handily in their last three,” Gerlich said. “This is a real test and we’ll have to play really well to beat them.”
One of the reasons the Mavericks are in this position has been freshman guard Cierra Johnson’s on-ball defense. Her six steals against Georgia Southern gave Johnson 71 for the season and moved her into seventh in team history for steals in a season.
“I think she’s just now tapping into how good she can be,” Gerlich said of the 2013 Star-Telegram high school player of the year.
UT Arlington at
1 p.m. Saturday, Jones Center, Boone, N.C.
Records: UTA 16-12, 10-9 Sun Belt; Appalachian St.: 14-14, 9-10 SBC